Two teens were arrested, but the officer who fired the shot was not

By Harriet Sokmensuer
February 24, 2017 05:01 PM
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California officials have pledged to conduct a full investigation into a Tuesday confrontation involving an off-duty Los Angeles police officer and several teenagers in which the officer fired his gun and two teens were arrested.

The incident, which took place in Anaheim near the officer’s home, was caught on camera and went viral, sparking protests.

“It should never have happened,” Anaheim Mayor Tom Tait said during a Thursday press conference. “Not in one of our neighborhoods, not near one of our schools. Now we as a city are left to figure all of this out.”

Anaheim police have said the shot was fired into the ground. Nobody was hurt by the shot.

According to Anaheim police, the confrontation began Tuesday afternoon when the unidentified officer told a group of teens that they couldn’t walk across his lawn, which according to the man happened daily despite his objections.

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“Yesterday, he sees the kids walking on the lawn and he says, ‘Hey, guys, please walk on the sidewalk,’” Sgt. Damon Wyatt of the Anaheim Police Department told CBS on Wednesday.

In the video, the officer, in street clothes, is seen forcefully holding a boy who says he is 13 by the collar of his sweater. The 13-year-old was later detained after the officer alleged the boy threatened to “shoot” him, but on the video, the boy insists he had threatened to “sue” the officer.

As the confrontation grows more physical, a 15-year-old rushes towards the officer and knocks him to the ground. As onlookers begin to converge on the scene, the officer reaches into his waistband and pulls out a gun. While some of the onlookers back up, a shot rings out. No one is hurt by the gunshot.

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Police soon arrive on the scene, and the officer told police he feared for his life, Anaheim police said.

Both teens were taken into custody. The 13-year-old was arrested on suspicion of making criminal threats. The 15-year-old was arrested on suspicion of misdemeanor battery and assault. The teens were released to their parents.

Tait said Thursday that once the investigation into the incident is over, all evidence will be presented to the Orange County District Attorney.

Divergent Perspectives

Speaking to OC Weekly, the 13-year-old’s father said he plans to sue.

The father, who lives in Arizona, says he was called by his son’s mother crying. “What I’ve been told is that my son told the off-duty cop, ‘I’m going to sue you for hitting me. I’m a minor,’ ” he says.

He adding that he believes his son was standing up for one of the girls the officer called a derogatory name.

“I’m pretty [upset] about what happened,” the father said. “You could talk to anybody, my son has very good manners. He does good in school and isn’t disrespectful or anything like that.”

“This is B.S.,” he continued. “Even the cops, when they got there, they had all the kids down. They didn’t even go after the guy.”

On Wednesday night, hundreds of protestors took to the quiet, suburban street.

Edie Gulrich, whose home was in the background of the video, tells PEOPLE her house was vandalized by protestors who misidentified her home as the officer’s. “It’s been a traumatic couple of days,” she says.

The 74-year-old tells PEOPLE she believes her neighbor had good reason to be fearful.

“I have no doubt in my mind they would have pulverized him,” she says of the dozen or so teens. A resident of the neighborhood for 17 years, she claims the issues between the officer and neighborhood teens were long simmering.

Three years ago, the officer’s parents moved into the home on the corner, Gulrich says, and the officer moved in after his father became ill.

About two years ago, she alleges teenagers from the two local junior highs began to cut across the family’s lawn daily, kicking down a fence and uprooting plants along the way. Gulrich says the man’s years of efforts to stop teenagers from walking on his property led to Tuesday’s incident.

“I think there needs to be some kind of dialogue between parents and their children on how to be respectful,” Gulrich says. “I once said that to one of the teens on my lawn, ‘How would you like it if I went to your house and did this?’ and he said, ‘What are you going to do about it?'”

Adds Gulrich: “It comes to the point where you’re just frustrated and enough is enough.”